Pan-American Highway, South of the Airport, Quito.
8:32 am . . .
We’re racing down the Pan-American Highway, again. This time, we’re in search of the most recent body. This makes two of seventeen missing children. The Pan-American Highway is an interesting piece of history, Juan explains, with Mr. Green filling-in the gaps in his English.
It’s basically a network of highways that connect North America to South America. It was conceived in 1923 as a single route, but it eventually grew to include several other highways in participating countries. Most of the sections of the highway were built with US financial assistance, however Mexico financed the entire portion that falls within its borders. The whole system extends from Alaska and parts of Canada, all the way down to Chile, Ecuador, Argentina, and Brazil.
It is nearly 30,000 miles in all. A grand feat, indeed. Although, right now it’s just another place where horrible stories and nightmares will be spawned. The morning traffic is already starting to get dense as we weave in and out of the dilapidated pick-up trucks and rusted old cars.
Time left this place in the dust years ago.
I know we’re getting close when we see the police vehicles gathered at the side of the road. There are only about five vehicles at this point, but it’s going to get much busier, I’m sure. We skid to a stop on the side of the road, about 25 feet from the last police vehicle.
Mr. Green turns to us, “Let me talk. I’ll introduce you as health investigators. Ricky,” he says glancing over, “you do your thing. Get your pictures and blood samples, or whatever, and then we get moving. These are locals, this is a dead child, you can see where tensions might be running a bit high.”
And with that we all get out of the first Hummer and head towards the last police vehicle. Mr. Green walks ahead of us, speaking quickly with the police. I can see a plastic sheet a few feet off of the road, in some sparse yellowed grass.
It doesn’t take long for Mr. Green to get clearance for us to investigate. Juan, Ms Josephine, and I, we’re trailing behind Ricky and Mr. Green. Mr. Blue, the quiet one, he’s staying with the vehicles.
The police look less like cops and more like out of work actors, playing cops. They all have their navy blue shirts partially untucked or unbuttoned. Their hats are either folded in their back pockets, or falling halfway off of their heads. Nobody here shaves, apparently, and they take even less care with their hygiene.
And all of them, every single tanned one of them, have this concern on their faces, eyes filled with terror. These men are haunted. They would all rather be at a ten-fatality traffic accident. Or a burning house with five charred bodies. Because at least then they could explain what happened.
Then they wouldn’t have to wonder.
Inspector Rodriquez—a short, balding man with sunken in eyes and sharp, almost unhealthy features—rubs the space between his eyes and nose, as he explains to Mr. Green how they found the body.
Some taxi coming from the Airport noticed several stray dogs toying with something just off to the south side of the highway. The driver thought he noticed a pair of feet and thought maybe they were attacking somebody. After skidding to a stop and backing up, he honked his horn several times to run the dogs away. He got out of the car and walked towards the body.
After throwing-up he got back to his car and called the dispatcher to report that a child had been found. That was just over an hour ago. People called people, who called the anonymous voice, who called the Vatican. At some point in there, we intercepted one of those calls, and here we are.
“Tengo dos hijos,” Inspector Rodriquez says as he turns towards the small body. The wind is barely lifting the edge of the plastic to show one of the tiny legs, where the dogs were mauling it. “Es horrible, todo eso. Horrible.”
“Permita nos a investigar,” Mr. Green asks.
“Si, si,” Inspector Rodriquez says as he waves us on. He yells to the other officers, “Deja ellos mirar.”
Let them look.
Ricky and Mr. Green make their way to the body, nodding and shaking hands with two other officers. Ricky pulls out several pairs of surgical gloves and puts them on, giving Mr. Green a pair. The rest of us are just watching from behind them. I have no desire to get really close to the body of another drained child.
This hunt, it’s draining the humanity out of me as much as it is the blood out of these helpless children. I don’t even have the heart to tell the inspector that he’s got some spooks watching him. I give him till the weekend, tops.
Ricky kneels down over the body, slowly removing the plastic. First thing he does is check at the insides of the wrists and ankles for the ligature marks we saw in the photos. He looks up and nods at us.
Then he carefully pulls another corner of the plastic back. The child is a young boy, can’t be older than six or seven years old. His skin is dark, with jet black hair. I hear some of the other officers behind me mentioning Cotopaxi. They mention something about the child’s familia.
This kid was from the city where the volcano lives. Where most of the disappearances took place. My gut tells me we’re going to have a long drive ahead of us.
Ricky takes a breath, slowly manipulating the child’s tiny arm as he inspects the bite marks. On the inside of the arm, a few inches down from the shoulder, he finds the blackened marks.
“Anterior Carpi, just like the other child.” He leans in, “Multiple dental sets.” He sits up and takes a deep breath, looking at Mr. Green. “Hand me the digital camera, can you?”
They take several pictures of the wounds, and Ricky swabs the area for saliva samples as well as blood.
Inspector Rodriquez approaches from behind, reading, “Juan-Carlos Jimenez, vivio en Cotopaxi. Septimo niño que ha desaparecido.”
Juan-Carlos Jimenez, lived in Cotopaxi. The seventh child to disappear.
I walk away once I see the shriveled-up knee and ankle of one of his gaunt legs. The inspector was right, this is horrible. Kids shouldn’t die like this.
I make my way out into the grass, taking several breaths. I feel sick to my stomach, nauseated by the site and the stench and the . . .
And then my left eye starts to shift. The grass in the field disappears. I glance back and, through my left eye, there is nobody. Just me, the greying mass of this child’s cold body, and an endless stretch of cracked and crumbled highway. The sun is a green mass in the bluish sky.
My death-vision is back.
I notice something about the child’s body as I stagger back forward. Ms. Josephine comes to my side and grabs my arm, supporting me. My legs feel weak underneath me, but I have to get closer.
“What is it, Jack?” Mr. Green says anxiously. “What did we miss?”
They can’t see it, but I can, and I assume that the spooks that are eyeing Inspector Rodriquez hungrily can see it, too. I walk closer, kneeling a few feet from the body. The child is glowing. Nothing in deadside glows, other than my tattoos. But this is different. It is a kind of greenish-purple glow, like something you might see under a black light.
The wounds, on the insides of his arms and thighs, they’re glowing this new color.
Footprints of Evil.
Echoes in the darkness.
“How long,” I ask, my voice slurred and skewed, “ . . . h-how long has the body b-b-been here?”
Ricky considers, looking at the half-naked child, only a pair of ripped shorts to cover him. No shoes, no shirt, no blood.
“There’s some blood pooling. Although, without a liver temp,” he says as he touches the child, “Whoa!”
Mr. Green lowers his body, “What is it?”
“This kid is hot,” Ricky says, almost in disbelief.
“The sun?” Mr. Green offers.
“No, no. This kid’s internal body temperature is hot. So hot . . . he would have had to be in a coma. He’s way over a hundred-five or six. His brain would have been destroyed. Intense hyperthermia. Like they heated him up after they finished him off.”
Ms. Josephine broke the silence, “Dey ’eated ’is body up while dey drank away ’is life. Warm blood would be easier to get out of a small child.”
My death-vision blinked out as quickly as it came on. And now I’m left with the images in my mind. Glowing wounds where Evil attacked.
We need to go to Cotopaxi, I told them all.
And then there was a commotion behind us as several men approached. As we stood I noticed a few of them were wearing those black jackets with the small white square at the neck.
And one tall man with a long, bent nose and green eyes makes his way to us. He’s sturdy and kind of harsh looking. His head is shaved to a shine, and he looks like a schoolteacher from the 18th century. Like at any second he is going to pull out a ruler and start whacking at our knuckles for interfering.
This guy seems to already know that we speak English because he introduces himself, “I’m Father Peter Scarcelli.”
Everybody trades disinterested glances. Well, everybody except Inspector Rodriquez, who snaps to. “Disfruta me, padre.” They shake hands and then the inspector seems to defer authority to Father Pete.
He looks at each of us, taking a moment, and then down to the plastic that’s covering Juan-Carlos.
Mr. Green takes the initiative, “We’re from the World Peace Brigade. We’re investigating a possible contagion outbreak.”
Father Pete doesn’t say anything, he just nods to himself, still studying our faces. He looks at Mr. Green, “We have met before, no?”
“I don’t think so, father,” he says.
“This is a police scene!” the father snaps. “We cannot have anyone contaminating any evidence. I trust that your investigation can wait until some time in the future.” He turns to Inspector Rodriquez, urging him to get rid of us.
And as he talks we hear his Italian accent. Ricky, Ms. Josephine and I, we all know who this guy is.
It’s the anonymous voice from the Vatican.
We all sense that we’re no longer welcome, and the Inspector kind of pleads with his eyes that we leave. So we do just that.